Arizona Senator Albert Hale (D-St. Michaels) plans to introduce a measure to sanction the use of traditional Native American practices off tribal land for profit without permission.
All I can say is, it’s about time!
For years, self-proclaimed self-help gurus have been making money and trouble by using Native American religious ceremonies for their own selfish ends. In the process, they’ve often brought harm to gullible people who didn’t know any better. The latest fiasco led to the October 8 deaths of Kirby Brown, Liz Neuman, and James Shore, who’d paid $9,000.00 each to attend James Arthur Ray’s five-day “Spiritual Warrior” retreat near Sedona, Arizona.
Witness reports indicate Ray not only did nothing to help people in obvious distress, he discouraged participants from leaving a sweltering sweat lodge while employees prevented a nurse from administering CPR to Brown. Once the extent of the damage was clear to even his most ardent followers, Ray silently watched his staff trying to help victims before disappearing from the scene of devastation, leaving the others to clean up the mess.
This isn’t the first time someone has died on Ray’s watch. During an exercise designed to teach people about self-sufficiency, Colleen Conaway apparently committed suicide by jumping from a third-story balcony in San Diego’s Horton Plaza Shopping Mall. According to a former employee, no one even bothered to identify Colleen to the police, and employees were discouraged from even mentioning her name. In fact, it was apparently taboo for any of James Ray International personnel to mention anything negative, for fear it would cause something bad to happen.
A simple comparison of the fatal scene and the traditional ceremony demonstrates the reason Ray’s operation was an accident waiting to happen: Navajo sweat lodges are constructed of natural materials, but Ray’s lodge coverings included such synthetic materials as a large sheet of plastic. Navajos limit participation to less than a dozen, but Ray crammed almost 60 people into his tent. And while traditional ceremonial leaders are sensitive to participants’ weaknesses, Ray and his employees prevented people from escaping, or even getting help, even as they were being seriously injured or close to death.
Senator Hale is himself a member and former president of the Navajo tribe. Regarding his proposed bill, he explains, “This process has been a perversion of our traditional ways. The dominant society has taken all that we have: Our land, our water, our language, and now they’re trying to take our way of life.”
“We need to be respected,” current Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley Jr. says. “Our ways cannot be abused.”
DEBBIE JORDAN is the nationally recognized author of The World I Imagine: A creative manual for ending poverty and building peace and Lion’s Pride. Her website is: www.imaginetheworldatpeace.com.
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